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How to choose your father

Dr. Jim Denison is a cultural apologist who helps people respond biblically and redemptively to the vital issues of our day. He is also the co-founder and Chief Vision Officer of the Denison Forum, a Dallas-based nonprofit that comments on current issues through a biblical lens.

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Topical Scripture: 2 Chronicles 29:1-2

A boy was asked what his dad was good for. He had a number of answers:

“A dad is good for putting worms on a hook. He is good for telling your great-aunt you don’t want her to kiss you in public; for helping you with your homework for about two years after your mom gives up; for explaining to your mom why it’s not such a huge crime to tear your pants sliding into second base; for showing you how to tie a tie—when your mom makes you wear one; for letting you run the power mower while your mom is sitting on the porch praying; for telling you the meaning of words you’re too embarrassed to ask your mom about; for carrying you when you are tired and your mom won’t stop shopping; for driving you where you want to go, especially if you can teach him not to talk much after you’re thirteen and your friends are in the car.”

Apparently dads are good for many things. That’s why our nation celebrates Father’s Day every year, and why our church does as well. And we should.

Fathers have the enormous privilege and responsibility of modeling God to our children. A father is the pastor of his family, their spiritual shepherd and leader. I want to help us fulfill this calling well.

But I also want to talk with those whose fathers were not spiritual leaders in their home. If this is your experience, I want to help you. Jesus was the only child to choose his father physically. But you can choose your father spiritually.

So let’s learn how to be godly fathers, and how to choose them.

How to be a spiritual father

Fathers are more involved in our children’s lives than we were a generation ago.

62% of us put our kids to bed, compared with 16% in the previous generation; 52% attend sporting events, up from 37%; 49% read to our kids, up from 14%; 25% do housework, up from 8%; 44% help with dishes, up from 16%.

But women are still far more likely to attend church services each week than we are. And they are 20% more likely to give serious attention to their faith than we are.

What kind of spiritual model do we need to give our children and families? What does God expect of a spiritual father and leader? His word is clear. Let me show you what we teach our new and prospective members every month—what God expects of a fully developing follower of Jesus Christ.

First and foremost, a follower of Jesus worships God.

Jesus told us that God expects us to love him with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength (Matthew 22:37). We love God when we worship him—with other Christians, and personally each day.

Men, our children will value worship as we do. Are you here every week you can be? Do you sing as we sing to God, or do you stand in silence? Do you pray to him, or listen as others do it for you? Do you study his word with us or merely sit through the sermon?

Do you worship God personally every day? Does your family know that you do? Would God want your kids to worship him as you do?

Second, a follower of Jesus lives by God’s word.

God says of his word, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17).

We are to know God’s word, and to live by it. James was blunt: “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says” (James 1:22).

And Jesus was conclusive: “If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love” (John 15:10). Jesus expects us to know his word, and to obey it.

Men, do you study God’s word every day? Do you make your decisions at home and at work in light of its truth? Is your daily lifestyle consistent with its teachings? Do you teach God’s word to your family? Would God want your kids to live by his word as you do?

Third, a follower of Jesus contributes to God’s work.

We are to use our spiritual gifts and abilities for God: “Each man should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms” (1 Peter 4:10). We are each part of the body of Christ—some a hand, others a foot, others an eye, others an ear (cf. 1 Corinthians 12). Each part is essential to our health and God’s purpose for our church. Every one of us must contribute out of the spiritual gifts and abilities God has given to us.

And we are to contribute financially to God’s work as well. God says, “Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house” (Malachi 3:10). Ten percent of our income returned to God is his standard for us.

This is the way God meets the needs of our suffering world, and blesses us along the way. Proverbs 28:27 is worth contemplating: “He who gives to the poor will lack nothing, but he who closes his eyes to them receives many curses.” Give to the needs of our community and world by giving to God through his church.

We are to give, not as though we are paying a bill but in gratitude for God’s grace to us: “Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Corinthians 9:7).

Do you give generously, sacrificially, regularly to God’s work through your church? Does your family know of your contribution to God’s kingdom? Would God want your kids to give to him as you do?

Fourth, a follower of Jesus impacts God’s world.

Jesus’ second great commandment was simple and profound: “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39). Your neighbor is any person you can love today.

We are to be Jesus’ witnesses in our Jerusalem and across the world (Acts 1:8). We are to make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:19) as the purpose of our church and our lives.

God measures our success by the degree to which others follow him because of us. Are you making a difference in your world for God? For what lost people are you praying? Who are you inviting to church? What hurting people are you helping? Does your family see your ministry? Would God want your kids to impact his world as you do?

And foundational to each commitment, a spiritual leader walks consistently with God.

Jesus was very plain about this: “Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me…If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:4-5).

We determine that we will love God, live by his word, contribute to his work, and impact his world. Then we live by these four priorities consistently. We measure our success by the degree to which we fulfill them each day.

As we do, we give our children a model they can follow to God. We have no greater gift to offer them.

How to choose a spiritual father

Now, what if this model was not yours? What if Father’s Day is a hard day for you, emotionally and perhaps spiritually as well? There’s good news—it’s not too late for you to have a godly father.

King Ahaz was king of Judah from 732 to 715 B.C. The Scriptures summarize his life this way: “He did not do what was right in the eyes of the Lord. He walked in the ways of the kings of Israel and also made cast idols for worshiping the Baals. He burned sacrifices in the Valley of Ben Hinnom and sacrificed his sons in the fire, following the detestable ways of the nations the Lord had driven out before the Israelites” (2 Chronicles 28:1-3).

Scripture concludes: “He shut the doors of the Lord’s temple and set up altars at every street corner in Jerusalem. In every town in Judah he built high places to burn sacrifices to other gods and provoked the Lord, the God of his fathers, to anger” (vs. 24-25).

No son had a less godly father. We would expect his son Hezekiah to fail God and his people with equal corruption and sin. But no. Hezekiah repaired the temple his father had desecrated, consecrated its priests, led the nation in sacrifice to God, celebrated the Passover, and led Judah to liberation from the oppression of Assyria. His was one of the most celebrated reigns in Jewish history.

His secret was simple—he chose his spiritual father: “He did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, just as his father David had done” (2 Chronicles 29:2). Even though David had lived and ruled 255 year before him, he chose to follow his example, to make David his spiritual father. He chose well.

You can make the same choice. You need and deserve someone in your life who worships God, who lives by his word, who contributes to his work and who impacts his world consistently. As Timothy needed Paul and John Mark needed Barnabas, so we each need spiritual mentors and guides.

Ask God to guide you. He has someone for you—a Sunday school teacher, a respected business leader, a relative or a close friend. Choose your model from Scripture and from life. Ask that person for time together. Develop a deep, personal relationship with him. As Hezekiah chose his spiritual father, so should you.

And ask God to use you, to make you a spiritual father to those who need one. Ross Redding was the sixth-grade boys Sunday school teacher at College Park Baptist Church in Houston, Texas, my home church. He never had biological children. But he had scores of spiritual children. Young boys he led to study God’s word, to pray to him, to worship him, to love him. Men now, pastoring churches and leading corporations, men of God who call him their spiritual father. Ask God to make you a Ross Redding, and he will.

Conclusion

Above all, make God your Father. Love him as his child, whether you are a father or not, whether you need a spiritual father or not. Jesus was the first rabbi in Jewish history to call God his “Abba,” his “Daddy.” Now, because he did, we can.

Think of it—the God of the universe is your Father. He made the universe, but he also made you. He rules the world, but he also loves you. And he wants you to love him.

When you relate to God as your Father, everything changes. You worship him out of love, not duty. You live by his word in trusting faith, not religious obligation. You contribute to his work as a privilege, not a duty. You impact his world out of joy, not guilt.

You become the person God wants your family to become. And you find in God the finest Father in the world, literally.

A good friend and father gave me a perspective on spiritual fatherhood which impressed me, so much that I close with it today.

Every dad here knows about the basketball playoffs. These are the days of “must-win” games. Unlike high school or college players, who bring excitement and intensity to every game, most professional players pace themselves for the playoffs. Then again in the playoffs, unless there’s a game they must win. Then they give everything they have, for there is no tomorrow. That game is everything.

What is the only “must-win” game fathers play? The only game which truly matters? It is the contest for the souls of our children. Only they are eternal. Not our jobs, our possessions, our career aspirations and achievements and acclaim. Nothing else but that.

And this is a game we must play to win. The coaches cannot win it for us. The fans in the stands cannot. They can help, but the ball is literally in our court. Not just the season, but the eternity, is in the balance.

The next shot is yours.